Open source code libraries seen as rife with vulnerabilities

Network World

Published: March 26, 2012 12:34

A study of how 31 popular open-source code libraries were downloaded over the past 12 months found that more than a third of the 1,261 versions of these libraries had a known vulnerability and about a quarter of the downloads were tainted.

The study was undertaken by Aspect Security, which evaluates software for vulnerabilities, with Sonatype, a firm that provides a Central Repository housing more than 300,000 libraries for downloading open-source components and gets 4 billion requests per year.

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"Increasingly over the past few years, applications are being constructed out of libraries," says Jeff Williams, CEO of Aspect Security, referring to "The Unfortunate Reality of Insecure Libraries" study. Open-source communities have done little to provide a clear way to spotlight code found to have vulnerabilities or identify how to remedy it when a fix is even made available, he says.

"There's no notification infrastructure at all," says Williams. "We want to shed light on this problem."

He adds that Aspect and Sonatype are mulling how it might be possible to improve the situation overall.

According to the study, researchers at Aspect analyzed 113 million software downloads made over 12 months from the Central Repository of 31 popular Java frameworks and security libraries (Aspect says one basis for the selection of libraries were those being used by its customers). Researchers found:

- 19.8 million (26%) of the library downloads have known vulnerabilities.

- The most downloaded vulnerable libraries were Google Web Toolkit (GWT); Apache Xerces; Spring MVC; and Struts 1.x. (The other libraries examined were: Apache CXF; Hibernate; Java Servlet; Log4j; Apache Velocity; Spring Security; Apache Axis; BouncyCastle; Apache Commons; Tiles; Struts2; Wicket; Java Server Pages; Lift; Hibernate Validator; Java Server Faces; Tapestry; Apache Santuario; JAX-WS; Grails; Jasypt; Apache Shiro; Stripes; AntiSamy; ESAPI; HDIV and JBoss Seam.)

Security libraries are slightly more likely to have a known vulnerability than frameworks, the study says. "Today's applications commonly use 30 or more libraries, which can compromise up to 80% of the code in an application," according to the study.

The types of vulnerabilities found in open source code libraries vary widely.

"While some vulnerabilities allow the complete takeover of the host using them, others might result in data loss or corruption, and still others might provide a bit of useful information to attackers," the study says. "In most cases, the impact of a vulnerability depends greatly on how the library is used by the application."

The study noted some known well-publicized vulnerabilities.

- Spring, the popular application development framework for Java, was downloaded more than 18 million times by over 43,000 organizations in the last year. However, a discovery last year showed a new class of vulnerabilities in Spring's use of Expression Language that could be exploited through HTTP parameter submissions that would allow attackers to get sensitive system data, application and user cookies.

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